11 Scams in Thailand All Tourists Should Avoid

Tuk-tuk driver | © Didier Baertschiger/Flickr
Tuk-tuk driver | © Didier Baertschiger/Flickr
Photo of Kyle Hulme
18 September 2017

Thailand is known around the world as the Land of Smiles – but a unlucky few travellers fall victim to scams that will quickly wipe the smiles off their faces. Fortunately these tricks are pretty well known and can be avoided – should you know what to look for. Here’s a list of the most popular scams in Thailand, what to look out for and how to avoid getting caught up in them.

“The Grand Palace is closed”

Not exclusive to the Grand Place – or to Thailand – this is a scam that can leave you frustrated and potentially out of pocket. Whether you’re close to the Grand Palace on foot or looking for a taxi to take you there, you might be told that it’s closed for a special ceremony. However, this usually isn’t the case. Instead, you’ll be offered the chance to go to a different location at a bargain price. Not only can this prevent you from seeing one of Bangkok’s best tourist attractions, you might end up paying over the odds for the taxi/tuk tuk or be coaxed into buying a souvenir you didn’t want or need.

It's probably not closed | © Colin Tsoi/Flickr

Tailor tricks

Anyone who has been to Thailand will undoubtedly have grown frustrated at the sheer number of people asking if you want a tailor-made suit or shirt. Whilst there are a number of reputable tailors in Thailand, there’s also a fair share of ones that either won’t provide you with your goods at all, or will give you a product that’s far below the level of quality you expected. If you’re planning to buy a suit in Thailand, do your homework first – and don’t get one off the back of a tuk-tuk ride.

Khao San Road has plenty of tailors - don't fall for it | © Robert Brands/Flickr

Damaged jet ski

Jet skis can provide great holiday memory in places such as Phuket and Pattaya, but upon returning to the beach you might be slapped with a large bill for “damage” that is either non-existent or already there. To make matters worse, it’s not unheard of for intimidating men in fake uniforms threatening to arrest you if you don’t pay. If you’re planning on renting a jet ski, make sure you document any bumps and scuffs by taking pictures to prevent these tactics from being used against you, and don’t give your passport as a deposit.

Keep an eye out for damage | © Dean Croshere/Flickr

Motorbike scams

Like with the jet skis, you can be fleeced for “damages” if you don’t take pictures of any bumps and scuffs that are already on the bike. To take things further, the same company you rent from may even steal the bike themselves, forcing you to then shell out for a new bike. Ask other travellers or expats for recommendations of bike rental places, and again don’t leave your passport as a deposit, as they’ll hold all the chips when it comes to talking to problem through.

Don't give your passport as a deposit | © Kullez/Flickr

Large bar tab

A popular scam in places such as Soi Patpong, it usually sees punters lured into dingy, upstairs bars after being promised by a promoter that they’ll get cheap drinks and free shows, such as the infamous ping-pong shows. After you decide to leave the bar, you’ll be slapped with a bill that’s way higher than you will have been expecting. It emerges that the drinks weren’t cheap, the shows weren’t free and that promoter is nowhere to be seen. To avoid such scams, a good rule of thumb is to avoid such shows altogether and stick to bars on the ground floor that aren’t dingy or hidden away.

Soi Patpong - keep your wits about you | © Jason Wesley Upton/Flickr

Broken taxi meter

Trying to find an honest taxi driver in Thailand can be like trying to find a needle in a haystack. Plenty will either flat-out refuse to turn on their meter, or tell you it’s broken. This can lead to tourists paying hundreds of baht for a trip that’s barely a couple of kilometers in length. Persevere with finding a driving who’ll use the meter in order to prevent paying over the odds or, if you have a rough idea of the price, trying to strike a deal with the driver might be a compromise you’ll have to take to prevent waiting for a while.

Always insist on the meter | © Damien Ayers/Flickr

Fake money

Every now and then, there’s a story that grips Thai media about a influx of fake bills flooding the market. If you’re a tourist who’s not familiar with how the notes look or feel, then there’s a good chance that you’ll be given these bills and will be none the wiser. To prevent this from happening to you, make sure you are familiar with the notes before going out and spending them, and ensure that you exchange money at an authorised currency exchange shop – not from someone who’s hanging around on the streets offering a rate that’s too good to be true.

Familiarise yourself with the currency | © Peter Hellberg/Flickr

Wrong change

Like the fake money scam, this is designed to target those who may be unfamiliar with the notes they are using. Most workers in markets or convenience stores are honourable, but there are the minority who’ll look to take advantage of you – for example, by giving the change for 500 baht note if you paid with a 1000 baht note. Make sure you’re aware of how much you’re giving to the cashier and count your change at the counter – if you do it once leaving the counter and find they undercut you, they won’t listen to any discrepancies.

Bird seed

It’s not uncommon to be walking along the streets and to have somebody suddenly take your hand. Whether they’re putting bird seed in your hand or a bracelet around your wrist, they’ll want paying far more than it’s worth – and the trouble is, it’s impossible to return the seeds without spilling them or remove the bracelet without breaking it – meaning you’ll have to pay. To avoid this, don’t let someone take your hand, and keep an eye out for people who might be trying this trick in the distance, so you can talk straight past and see straight through them.

Be careful who give your hands to | © Emma Craig/Flickr

Gem scam

Similar to the tailor scam, this is an old scam that still catches out tourists today. Usually as part of your tuk-tuk tour, you’ll be taken to a gem store, where you’ll be told how the abundance of gems in Thailand makes them cheap here but can be sold for a tidy profit back home. To make it sound even better, you’ll be shown a list of bogus testimonies from happy customers telling you how much profit they made. However, whilst some may be able to be resold, you’re more likely to end up with several worthless gems that you can’t sell on and that you paid thousands of baht for. Remember – you’re not obligated to buy anything on these visits, and you shouldn’t be pressured into doing so.

Fake tourism officials

If you’re looking to find a train or a trip, you may come across a fake official from the Tourism Authority of Thailand telling you it’s fully booked and that they can offer you alternatives at a discounted price. Don’t fall for it – tourism officials are government workers and don’t have shops or officials on the streets selling to tourists. In reality, you will be paying for a non-existent bus journey or a run-down hotel that’s way past its best years.

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